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1. War Games: The Dead Code (2008)
Sequels: They’re bigger, more expensive, and flashier than the films that inspired them, right? Except when they aren’t, as anyone knows after exploring video stores’ bottom shelves or paging deep into Netflix’s offerings. Where most sequels try to outdo what’s come before, some just coast as best they can on scoring the sequel rights to a recognizable name. Take War Games: The Dead Code, a sequel to 1983’s WarGames, in which Matthew Broderick nearly starts a nuclear war with his home computer. In Dead Code, it’s Matt Lanter nearly starting a catastrophe after he stumbles over a game designed to identify and eliminate potential terrorists. Much running around Montreal, where Lanter has traveled for a chess competition, follows. It all seems related to WarGames only tangentially at best, until the computer scientist from the first film (now played by a different actor) and his game-loving super-computer WOPR show up to help avert catastrophe as WOPR’s successor loses track of what’s real and—déjà vu—threatens to destroy the world.
2. Hollow Man 2 (2006)
In spite of decent visual effects and a certain filthy energy, no one was particularly clamoring for a sequel to 2000’s Hollow Man, a lowfalutin retelling of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man with Kevin Bacon using his power of invisibility to look at a bunch of C-list actresses with their shirts off. But sequels to movies nobody wanted sequels to is why we have a direct-to-video market, and six years after Hollow Man, it coughed up Hollow Man 2, directed with an utter lack of panache by the unlikely Claudio Fäh. Eliminating the few good things about the original movie (Kevin Bacon’s over-the-top performance, the slick graphics and FX, and Paul Verhoeven’s usual crackling directorial spunk), Hollow Man 2 manages to be both more violent and less interesting. It dumps the effects in favor of exhausted-looking stock footage, and its bad dialogue is merely bad, without any of the campy elements that barely salvaged the first movie. A needlessly complex plot features dueling invisible men, one of whom is Christian Slater, and the film ends with them hitting each other with garden tools.
3. Splash, Too (1988)
Even for the mid-’80s, Splash—the mermaid-centric romantic comedy with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah—was pretty mild. This helped account for its success; during a period of raunchy sex comedies, it offered a funny but family-friendly viewing experience. But when Disney decided to do a TV movie sequel in 1988, they decided that the problem with the original was that it was too racy: After replacing the entire cast with no-name substitutes (aside from future Wings star Amy Yasbeck, the most famous name in the cast was Joey Travolta), they sucked every last bit of life out of the characters. The lead character’s wisecracking brother, played with gusto in the film by John Candy, is completely denatured, and the main character himself is played by Todd Waring, who seems to think that if he puts any emotion whatsoever into his delivery, he’ll die of a heart attack. What’s more, though Splash, Too was incredibly expensive (it cost $3.3 million, a massive sum at the time for a TV movie), it looks incredibly cheap. The special effects are cut-rate, the plot ridiculous even for a movie about mermaids, the acting terrible, the jokes nonexistent. Even the original songs aren’t worthy of the Disney name. And the original’s gentle humor gets replaced by a ludicrous animal-rescue plot—Yasbeck schemes to save her best buddy, a dolphin named Salty—lowering the franchise’s target demographic to about 6 years old.
4. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr. (2009)
With little story to forward and few (if any) loose ends to sew up, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr., released 14 years after When Nature Calls, is merely an excuse to do it all over again, but younger. Dad is out of the picture, and little Ace Ventura Jr. is struggling to find his place at school. He’s oddly drawn to pets, and his hair is oddly drawn to a Jim Carrey-esque swoop, but Ace’s mother fears what will happen if he gets involved in the pet-finding world. But when she’s wrongfully incarcerated, she calls Ace’s grandfather to get the kid going, and little Acey fulfills his pet detectiving (and hair-coiffing) potential. Ace Ventura wasn’t the height of sophistication, but Jr. is decidedly more kid-friendly, which is to say full of fart humor. There's some physical buffoonery, some confusing quips, some “Aaaaaaall righty then”s—it's everything that made Ace Ventura what it was, but without the surprise.
5. Still Waiting… (2009)
The 2005 slacker comedy Waiting… wasn’t exactly a classic, but it made six times its $3 million budget at the box office, and piles more when it came out on home video, so some sort of sequel was inevitable. In the follow-up, the basic shtick remains the same: A group of foul-mouthed pranksters work for the chain restaurant Shenaniganz and its chief rival, Ta-Ta’s Wing Shack. There’s a plot, involving Shenaniganz manager John Michael Higgins needing to make $7,000 in a single dinner shift to keep the restaurant open, but mainly the movie is made up of intermittently funny gross-out gags and bon mots like “Paging Dr. Faggot, your cock seems to be parked in another man’s asshole!”
6. The Seven-Ups (1973)
In 1975, Gene Hackman reprised his role of “Popeye” Doyle in French Connection II, continuing the narcotics-hunting cop action of the Oscar-winning original. But The French Connection already had a sequel—unofficially—two years earlier. The French Connection was produced by Philip D’Antoni, and based on the real-life adventures of NYPD detectives Eddie Egan (fictionalized as Doyle, and played by Gene Hackman) and Sonny Grosso (renamed Buddy Russo, and played by Roy Scheider). In 1973, D’Antoni produced and directed The Seven-Ups, casting Scheider as a no-nonsense cop named Buddy Manucci, and also bringing back French Connection heavy Tony Lo Bianco and stunt coordinator Bill Hickman, for a story Grosso wrote. The plot is more sensationalistic—it’s about an elite squad of cops who try to solve a puzzling case of mob kidnappings—but it maintains its predecessor’s salty language, urban rot, and thrilling chases.
7. Gregory’s Two Girls (1999)
Bill Forsyth’s 1981 romantic comedy Gregory’s Girl was an international hit, charming audiences with its slight story about a lovestruck Scottish teenager (John Gordon Sinclair) who tries to express his feelings for a soccer-obsessed bombshell, but gets sidetracked by the other girls at his school. The movie was quirky to the point of absurdity at times, but always rooted in real situations and real adolescent feelings. When Forsyth returned to the character 18 years later, he’d developed more of a taste for the ridiculous. In Gregory’s Two Girls, Sinclair returns as the hero, now a teacher at his old school and ignoring a colleague’s advances while dealing with his crush on one of his students. Meanwhile, that student (Carly McKinnon) has been inspired by Sinclair’s lectures about activism, and is trying to expose a local entrepreneur she suspects of war crimes. Barely Legal sex fantasies and political protest might seem pretty far afield from the original Gregory’s Girl; that probably explains why the movie was never released in the U.S., even on DVD.
8. Another 9 1/2 Weeks (1997)
Mickey Rourke was at the height of his powers as a young actor when he starred in the 1986 erotic classic 9 1/2 Weeks with Kim Basinger, but he was going to seed by the time he made Another 9 1/2 Weeks opposite Angie Everhart. Rourke meets Everhart in Paris and tries to rouse himself out of his existential depression by giving her a going-over unlike anything she’s ever experienced before—again and again, in fact, with showers of flower petals, searing-hot wax, soothing bubble baths, shots of absinthe, special guest girls, and so on. It’s like Last Tango In Paris, if that film were a perfume commercial.
9. The Cell 2 (2009)
The Cell, the 2000 feature debut of veteran music-video and commercial director Tarsem Singh, attracted some dismissive reviews and a small, fervent cult. But fans and detractors alike have to agree that Singh’s visuals, not the psychic-detective-enters-a-killer’s-mind storyline, made the film distinctive. So no need for a Cell 2, right? Right! But also apparently wrong! Hence we get Tessie Santiago filling in for Jennifer Lopez, and a lot of scenes inside a creepy abandoned warehouse filling in for everything else. Tim Iacofano’s best efforts to match the first film’s creepy images involve Santiago picking up what looks like a flatscreen television flickering with foreboding images. The film also adheres to the Murder She Wrote rule by casting its highest-profile supporting player as the bad guy. (Frank Whaley still counts as high-profile, right?)
10. The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat (1974)
Maybe Robert Crumb was on to something. The legendary cartoonist disassociated himself from Ralph Bakshi’s 1972 X-rated animated version of Fritz The Cat, calling it an embarrassing distortion of his creation. Then producer Steve Krantz went on to make The Nine Lives Of Fritz The Cat without Bakshi’s input, and the result was a distortion of a distortion: an unfocused compendium of “trippy” animation, crude sex jokes, and racist imagery disguised as a commentary on racist imagery. It combines the worst aspects of ‘60s underground comics with the worst aspects of ’70s midnight movies.
11-12. Revenge Of The Nerds III: The Next Generation (1992) and Revenge Of The Nerds IV: Nerds In Love (1994)
It was bad enough when Revenge Of The Nerds downshifted from R to PG-13 for its first sequel, but five years after Revenge Of The Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise, the series moved to television, forgoing raunch in favor of family-friendly hijinks. The Next Generation is reasonably entertaining regardless of its softness, inverting the original by showing the now-marginalized jocks—led by Morton Downey Jr. and Ted McGinley—retaking Adams College from complacent nerds. Robert Carradine returns as “the George Washington of nerds,” who’s become “the nerd Benedict Arnold” after remaking himself into a slick, ponytailed entrepreneur. He has to reclaim his nerd roots to restore order at Adams, with the help of his old friend Booger (now a lawyer) and a new class of Tri-Lams, including a rapping, Malcolm X-hatted Chi McBride. Two years later, the gang reassembles for Booger’s wedding, and has to show some standoffish blue-bloods that it’s okay to be geeky. This time, though, McGinley is with the nerds. Too far off-model, Nerd-sequel writers!
13-14. From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999)
The 1996 Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez co-production From Dusk Till Dawn was designed to pull the rug out from under viewers: It’s a gritty crime drama until halfway through, when it dramatically morphs into an over-the-top vampire horror-comedy. Throw that half-and-half dynamic into a blender on puree until it’s all one homogenous, dripping mess, and you get the snore-inducing direct-to-video sequel written and directed by Evil Dead II screenwriter Scott Spiegel. Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money deals with crime and with vampires, but it’s short on comedy, at least of the intentional kind. Basically, when some bank robbers stumble into the first film’s Mexican vampire bar, they become… vampire bank robbers. It feels like Spiegel was more inspired by Near Dark than Dusk Till Dawn, but slack pacing, terrible acting, and weak scripting make “inspired” an inappropriate word to use anyway. From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter, released the same year, is technically a prequel rather than a sequel, but it’s also a remake with a new genre twist: This time, the story’s half Western, half vampire horror. Director P.J. Pesce, who recently helmed the equally underwhelming late-to-the-game DVD sequel Lost Boys: The Tribe, at least gives Hangman’s Daughter a warm, rich look, and brings back the always enjoyable Danny Trejo as the leader of a gang of outlaws who end up in that same vampire bar. As an origin story for the first movie, it could be worse, but both films could also be much better.
15. Charlotte’s Web 2: Wilbur’s Great Adventure (2003)
E.B. White’s novel Charlotte’s Web was pretty much the perfect children’s story—funny, lively, and clever, yet underscored by tragedy and a deeply moving plot about friendship and sacrifice. Hanna-Barbera’s 1973 adaptation didn’t boast the world’s most sophisticated animation, but it was respectful to the source material, and it added songs that remain memorable and resonant today. So what better way to respect the book and movie’s accomplishments than a crudely animated, knocked-off sequel that again explores friendship, but in a much broader way marked by weak wisecracks, cutesy retreads of the original characters, and awkward musical interludes? In this version, Wilbur befriends a literal black sheep, an anxious lamb named Cardigan, while Charlotte’s three children—each sporting an exaggerated anime hairdo—deal with Wilbur’s ongoing anxieties that he’s still destined to be bacon. Eventually, through a ridiculous series of coincidences, Wilbur ends up mistaken for a wild boar because he has crap glued all over his body, and the local farmers set out to hunt him down. Meanwhile, a scary fox stalks the local farms. Can this all be wrapped up neatly if Charlotte’s most confidence-impaired daughter learns to emulate mom and write words in her web? Naturally. And painfully.
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16. Zapped Again! (1990)
It’s comforting to know that so little changed between 1982—the year of the original Zapped!—and 1990. Gifted with the power of telekinesis, a nerdy high-school student will still use his power to make women’s clothing fly off, whether he’s played by Scott Baio or Todd Eric Andrews. And his tomfoolery will inevitably place him in opposition to the jocks at his school, who will be torn between outrage at the nerd and frustration that their girlfriends apparently don’t wear underwear. (Cue girlfriend: “I don’t have any, you ate them all!”) Give this straight-to-video sequel for truth in advertising though. The title says it all: “You liked Zapped!? Well, here’s Zapped! again!”
17. S. Darko (2009)
The producers of S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale must’ve thought they’d scored when they landed Daveigh Chase from Richard Kelly’s original Donnie Darko to reprise her almost-nonexistent role from the first film for the direct-to-DVD sequel. But Chase mostly just hangs out looking empty, sexy, and disaffected, as the screenwriters try to recreate the mystical energy and strangeness of the original film without any of the smarts or chops. Those who thought Donnie Darko was ridiculous time-travel hogwash should just try to parse the storyline in S. Darko, which involves a glowing feather, a space cube, and a meteorite. Oh, and the Donnie Darko bunny mask shows up, too, mostly because it's an iconic element from the first film that didn’t cost them any money to use. On a making-of featurette on S. Darko, the filmmakers posit what Richard Kelly might think of their sequel. He'd probably be too polite to comment.
18. Shock Treatment (1981)
After the unheralded success of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, writer (and actor, as Riff Raff), Richard O’Brien followed it up with a direct-to-midnight-circuit pseudo-sequel, Shock Treatment. The film picks up years after the events of the original, with Brad and Janet—now played by Cliff De Young and Jessica Harper instead of Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon—living in an eerily prescient world consumed by reality TV. De Young pulls double duty as the hero and the villain—the fast-food magnate Farley Flavors—and sings a duet with himself at the film's climax, and The Young Ones’ Rik Mayall even makes an uncomfortable appearance. Although the film flopped on release and never gained a fraction of its predecessor’s notoriety, it’s actually a fun movie, and far more coherent than Rocky Horror, with music updated from glam to new wave. (It includes a ska tune, of all things.) But without Tim Curry’s iconic Dr. Frank-N-Furter, or a single song as indelible as “Time Warp,” Shock Treatment lacks the requisite shock value.
19. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure (2003)
1989’s holiday classic National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation bears the strange distinction of having two direct sequels: Vegas Vacation, the next movie in the Vacation series, and the made-for-TV offshoot, Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure. Neither is particularly worth bragging about, but CV2 is exceptionally crappy: Clark Griswold’s Cousin Eddie, again played by Randy Quaid, is fired from his laboratory test-subject job after a chimp coworker bites him in the butt just before Christmas. The family decides to go to Hawaii for the holidays, but winds up shipwrecked on a deserted island and forced to fend for themselves—and to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas. Lost it ain’t, though Sung-Hi Lee, who plays the Griswolds’ native guide, did turn up on that show as Tricia Tanaka. The saddest thing about CV2, though, is seeing giants like Fred Willard, Ed Asner, and Eric Idle attached, although Idle at least is just reprising his European Vacation cameo as the hapless victim of Griswold idiocy.
20. My Summer Story (1994)
An even-better holiday classic, A Christmas Story, is the basis for another unwarranted, justly forgotten sequel: My Summer Story, the further misadventures of little Ralphie Parker in 1940s Indiana. Rather than a quest for a Red Ryder BB gun, the movie has a number of plotlines, including Ralphie’s quest to beat a bully at a competitive top-spinning game, and the Parkers’ feud with a houseful of hick, hillbilly-music-playing neighbors, the Bumpuses. (Or the Bumpi, as Ralphie calls them.) The premise is thin, but a good cast could have carried it. Instead, the film stars a hammy Charles Grodin, who possesses none of Darren McGavin’s grumbling gravitas, and a cute but forgettable Kieran Culkin, who in no way touches Peter Billingsley’s wide-eyed turn as Ralphie. Even the running narration by author Jean Shepherd—whose semi-autobiographical stories spawned the films—sounds forced and perfunctory. If nothing else, My Summer Story serves as a reminder of how great A Christmas Story is, and how easily its elements of whimsy, cynicism, and homespun nostalgia can be knocked out of whack.
21. Single White Female 2: The Psycho (2005)
With the release of both Basic Instinct and Single White Female, 1992 was a banner year for depicting women as manipulative sociopaths. As with Basic Instinct, it took more than a decade for a sequel to SWF to be made—and, as with Basic Instinct 2, it’s terrible. More of a one-eye-closed remake than a sequel, Single White Female 2: The Psycho features neither Bridget Fonda nor Jennifer Jason Leigh reprising their lead roles as, respectively, an unsuspecting Manhattanite and her murderous roommate. Instead, The Psycho has Baywatch alumnus Brooke Burns as the second-evilest roommate in a deadly cohabitation triangle that’s as tangled as Burns’ frequently-seen underpants. Since the story takes place in 2005, it’s surprising that Craiglist never comes up in the story—then again, the direct-to-DVD film is soundtracked with sleazy, soft-porn disco straight out of the ’70s, and sprinkled with clock-reversing talking points like “That’s the reason that men were put on this earth: to make life easier for beautiful women.”
22. Road House 2: Last Call (2006)
Woe to anyone who tries to fill the shoes of the late Patrick Swayze—especially in a role as inherently Swayze-rific as Dalton in Road House. In Road House 2: Last Call, Johnathon Schaech—who plays Dalton’s son, DEA agent Shane Tanner—cluelessly throat-punches his way through a plot as predictable as sunset. After taking over his uncle’s rowdy bar in Louisiana and defending it from a gang of drug dealers, Schaech glumly, tediously pays lip service to his legendary, deceased father, although the comparison can be best summed up by this exchange between Schaech and one of the bar’s employees: “Hey, are you as tough as your daddy was?” “Opinions vary.” Equal parts beefcake and T and A, Road House 2 unsurprisingly went straight to DVD. Then again, when Jake Busey is the biggest name on your roll call, it’s pretty clear you’re getting consigned to shitty-sequel purgatory.